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Stylish, powerful 2021 Mazda CX-9 wows in midsize SUV segment Featured

Posted On Sunday, 25 October 2020 03:19 Written by
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Mazda's 2021 CX-9 is their largest vehicle, but remains a very enjoyable ride. Mazda's 2021 CX-9 is their largest vehicle, but remains a very enjoyable ride. Photo courtesy of Mazda

Too often drivers must choose between having a reliable, family-oriented vehicle, and having a car they can enjoy driving. This is especially the case with SUVs of the three-row variety.

Thankfully, the Mazda CX-9 does not fit that mold, as you can actually fulfill both desires. I recently tested the 2021 Mazda CX-9, which receives some upgrades in its design and technology setup, and I’m back with a full report.


The exterior design of the CX-9 remains sharp on the 2021 model, with a familiar overhang in the front that distinguishes Mazda, and an overall svelte shape for a three-row SUV. 

The vehicle I tested featured a Soul Red Crystal metallic paint job, a very sharp-looking red color associated with Mazda that lets you instantly identify the vehicle.

Mazda continues to be one of the very best of the nonluxury brands in terms of overall interior quality. The look and feel of all the materials used in the CX-9 is near-luxury level. My test vehicle featured seating for six passengers, 2 in each row, but there are versions with a bench seat in
the middle that will seat 7 people.

Nappa leather trimmed seats are offered in the first and second rows, along with heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row Captain's chairs, leather steering wheel, three-zone automatic climate control, rear-view camera and keyless entry.

On the downside, the CX-9 features limited cargo space: 14.4 cubic feet with all seats up, 38.2 cubic feet with third row folded down, and 71.2 cubic feet with 2nd and 3rd rows down.

There are also extremely tight third-row seating conditions. Best to reserve those for the smallest of passengers.

There’s also a new trim level offered, the Carbon Edition package, which adds black exterior trim, a blacked-out grille, black 20-inch wheels, and red leather seats.

Other features include 20-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated power mirrors with turn lamps, hands-free power rear liftgate, and a power moonroof.

in the three-row SUV class, you're dealing with larger vehicles. So acceleration, handling and overall driving experience are generally not going to be up to snuff with smaller vehicles.

Mazda bucks that Trend with the CX-9. It's always been a driver's vehicle, and that does not change with their largest model.

The acceleration is strong for the segment (about 7 seconds zero-to-60). Braking is instant, and going through turns and overall handling is smooth as silk. You get some engine noise, but not enough to be a bother. Even on the freeway, no matter how fast you were going, it still feels very smooth.

Power comes courtesy of a 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, paired with an automatic transmission, and offering 227 horsepower plus 310 lb.-ft. of torque. Paddle shifters are also available on some trim levels.

Drivers can choose between the standard FWD, or the optional AWD that I experienced on my test vehicle, which would be the preferred choice for driving in inclement weather. The towing capacity caps out at 3,500 pounds, which is less than some rivals.

You can enhance your ride by pushing the CX-9 into Sport mode, which I did frequently. It offers a peppy and responsive driving experience that’s rare to find in this segment.

The CX-9 features electric power-assisted steering, independent front and rear suspension, plus front and rear stabilizer bars. It also offers G vectoring Control Plus, a vehicle dynamics and motion control system that responds to steering inputs with engine torque and braking changes so the ride and handling feel smoother and more natural.


One major change for 2021 is a standard, larger 10.25-inch center screen on the infotainment system. Navigation is offered and includes traffic sign recognition.

Most models now feature a wireless smartphone charger, a big help in a distanced world where we all need to have our phones fully functional.

You get a 3-month trial of SiriusXM satellite radio, a Bose stereo system featuring 12 speakers, Bluetooth connection for streaming of music and phone calls, phone mirroring capability via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and 6 USB inputs.

Technologywise, overall the CX-9 has improved but is still a mixed bag. Mainly because the physical controls for infotainment through the center dial remain overly complicated and involve too many steps. But voice commands did work very well for navigation, radio and phone.

Safety is an area where the 2021 CX-9 delivers. The exterior camera system is improved tremendously, offering a bird’s eye view of your surroundings. You also get some features that aren’t on all vehicles in this segment, including rear automated emergency braking.

You also get a helpful Driver Attention Alert system, which will talk to you and say things such as “put hands on wheel” when you are not doing so.

The CX-9 received five-star ratings overall and for side crashes; and four-star ratings for front crash and rollover. These ratings show that it’s easily one of the safest SUV options out there.

Other safety features include a tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning system, lane keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

You get anti-lock brakes with brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction control system, trailer stability control, airbags on all sides, Advanced Smart City brake support, and radar cruise control with stop-and-go.


The official fuel mileage numbers on the Mazda are 20 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway, and 23 combined. Compared to its main competition in this segment (Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Highlander, etc.), these numbers are about average. I averaged 18.4 mpg during my time in the 2021 CX-9, but I stayed primarily in Sport mode so lower numbers were expected.


The 2021 CX-9 I tested was a Signature trim level and priced at the top of the price range for this vehicle. Final price was $48,300, while the base Sport model starts around $34K. Touring trim starts at $36K, Carbon Edition at $41K and Grand Touring at $42K.

In terms of warranty, you get decent coverage, including a:

— 5-year / 60,000 mile powertrain warranty
— 3-year / 36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty


With near-luxury level design and a brilliant driving experience for a three-row SUV, the 2021 Mazda CX-9 remains a hidden gem amid a sea of more prominent sellers in the segment. It’s definitely worth a test drive if you're looking for a strong family vehicle that you can also enjoy driving — which is a trick Mazda pulls over better than most or all of its competitors.

===== can be found on Twitter @AutoTechReview, or stay updated at the AutoTechReviews Facebook page.

Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

Additional Info

  • Vehicle: 2021 Mazda CX-9  
  • Price as tested: $48,300 (starts at $34K)   
  • Best feature: A truly fun-to-drive SUV; attractive design, near-luxury level interior   
  • Rating: 4.5 out of five stars  
  • Who will want this vehicle?: Families looking for style and a smooth yet powerful 3-row SUV
Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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